Cataloging piano rolls

February 3, 2016

Over the past year this blog has covered a wide variety of piano roll topics: conjoined rolls, archival storage issues, publication dates, illustrations on rolls, piano roll lending libraries, Welte-Mignon at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and Hupfeld piano rolls. Many thoughtful comments from members of the player piano and mechanical music communities came to us through email, blog comments, or in-person visits during our listening parties.

In this spirit of sharing information and advocating for the future of rolls in libraries, I am happy to share the guidelines used for cataloging piano rolls from the Denis Condon Collection of Reproducing Pianos and Rolls within the Player Piano Project at the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound. It’s my hope that they can help guide other libraries into exposing their collections of piano rolls on an item level.  

Now available through the Stanford Digital Repository:

Guidelines for cataloging Welte-Mignon piano rolls in RDA and MARC 21

Guidelines for cataloging Hupfeld Triphonola and Animatic-T piano rolls in RDA and MARC 21

Reading background information on piano rolls and each manufacturer that is being cataloged is definitely worth the time. Find these resources on the Player Piano Project Links Page and at the end of each cataloging guideline.

But what else should someone know before beginning to catalog piano rolls?

  1. You do not listen to each roll in order to catalog it. The label on the leader is the primary source of information.

  2. Rolls don’t always match the containers they’re in, so they must be removed from their containers.

  3. Publishers can and do misprint work titles or misspell instrumentalists’ names. It helps to cross-reference with other reference resources.

  4. Standardization is hard to find. Whether its flange and core sizes, interoperability, or just the number of notes represented on the keyboard, rolls have a surprising amount of variance.

  5. Uncertainty and time restraints are normal. Sometimes it’s just really unclear which Scarlatti Sonatina is on a roll.